Thursday, May 19, 2011

Problems of the periodization of training in mixed sports. Part 4

Competition period

Before I start with the characteristics of the competition period, I need to mention one thing first. In the research papers (see Lyle’s series Methods of Endurance and a review of Tabata study) it was shown that higher intensity endurance training (VO2max intervals) brings up the effects pretty quickly, but they  also soon reach ceiling in terms of training effects. If we look at the training of endurance runners (see the excellent review paper by Seiler), we can conclude that: 

“training characteristics of nationally or internationally competitive endurance athletes training 10 to 13 times per week seem to converge on a typical intensity distribution in which about 80% of training sessions are performed at low intensity (2 mM blood lactate), with about 20% dominated by periods of high-intensity work, such as interval training at approx. 90% VO2max. Endurance athletes appear to self-organize toward a high-volume training approach with careful application of high-intensity training incorporated throughout the training cycle. Training intensification studies performed on already well-trained athletes do not provide any convincing evidence that a greater emphasis on high-intensity interval training in this highly trained athlete population gives long-term performance gains. The predominance of low-intensity, long-duration training, in combination with fewer, highly intensive bouts may be complementary in terms of optimizing adaptive signaling and technical mastery at an acceptable level of stress.”

This excerpt is taken from abstract of Seiler S. (2010). What is best practice for training intensity and duration distribution in endurance athletes? Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2010 Sep;5(3):276-91.
Yet, we see a lot of improvements utilizing higher intensity intervals with team sport athletes (see Helgerud et al.). I wonder what’s the cause of this. Well, (1) team athletes are not elite endurance level athletes (with 55-65 ml/kg/min VO2max) and (2) most of their training is lower intensity (speaking of technical training of soccer in this case, see Castagna et al.), thus those higher intensity intervals brings results (which brings me back to the concept of doing in conditioning what is not done in skill sessions in terms of energy system development). 

Regarding platoue effect of higher intensity training (VO2max, glycolytic conditioning, RSA). Well, I guess we need more research to back this up (and thus avoid over-doing it when it is not bringing results – I am going to get back to this concept later), and in the mean time we don’t need to be too much concerned regarding this, since we are doing it for short period of time anyway (6-8 weeks in the preparatory period) in the full volume, and in the small volume during the competition period to maintain achieved adaptation with minimal time investment. 

Ok, let’s get back out characteristics of competition period from previous parts:

- Because of the duration of the competition period, there is no need to be in top shape and to peak (except for very important games, play-offs and international competitions), besides it is not possible to do so due de-training (thus maintenance principle is not an option). Players should be injury free and playing at appropriate high level of play, without allowing de-training to happen.

 One concept I like to use all the time is peaking index developed by Tudor Bompa. 

Peaking Index
Preparedness level
Weekly training workload
Willingness to train
Muscle soreness
(progress) Low to High*
(progress)  High to Low*
Very high, Progressively

Medium-Low (Taper)
* Willingness to train is low and the muscle soreness is high during the Peaking Index 5 because of the fact that competition season is over and athletes need rest and recovery.

You can read mode on this in soccer articles  and in Usage of Subjective indicators article. 

The point of this peaking index is that most of the competition season is played in PI2 and PI3 with occasional games(s) (play-offs, very important matches) in PI1. Why can’t you play in PI1 all the time?

Players are unable to be in PI1 for long period of time (maybe 1-3 weeks) because due too low training load de-training will happen and the preparedness will suffer even if we have un-masked it by decreasing fatigue. Since the workload is minimal during the taper (although the intensity should be kept the same to prevent de-training) or during PI1 phase, the load should be brought up afterwards, which increases fatigue before athletes get their normal work-capacity back. Thus too long PI1 cause de-training, and later increase in workloads to bring preparedness back cause fatigue. This way, we create huge peak, but the huge hole will follow (see Joel Friel’s 7 Basic Training Assumptions, especially #7).

Compared to PI1, PI2 and PI3 are easier to hold on for long, long time, because you are still training and still improving (the workload is based on the game importance, time available in days before the game and travel factors), although the priorities are different, namely:

- Be injury free and fresh for the game

- Avoid de-training and continue working on all aspects of performance including physical preparation (this is related to injury prevention)

To achieve those goals, we must deal with couple of things. First one, to be fresh for the game you need to decrease training load, both before the game, and after the game (to recover and deal with minor injuries). And second, we are thus left with the small amount of time (and energy) to provide stimulatory training (talking about physical preparedness). Injury prevention will basically be dependent on maintaining force capabilities (max strength), flexibility, hydration and tissue quality, but will also be dependent on the total volume/stress being done (games included, along with training, especially monotony of it).
So, in simple term, during the competition period we are dealing with time crunched athletes (see Lyle’s excellent article). Thus, the question is what to do in the situation where you don’t have too much time and energy to spend and you have need to be injury free and fresh for the frequent games over prolonged time?

Stay tuned for the next part and hopefully the last one…

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